This Gardener Digs Pistols for Shovels

The shovels featured in the work, Palas por Pistolas by Pedro Reyes of Mexico City, were used to plant trees on the grounds of one Denver elementary school during The Nature of Things art exhibit in July. The 20 shovels lying in a row on the floor meant there were 20 fewer weapons on the streets of one city in Mexico.

July was a busy month around here, but John and I managed to block out an entire day to take in several Biennial of the Americas events during the month-long celebration in downtown Denver. We’re so glad we did.

The Nature of Things was the title of the contemporary art exhibit at the reopened and partially-renovated McNichols Building. The exhibit featured artists from North, South and Central America who expressed themes of innovation, sustainability, community and the arts through their work. Many dealt with issues of social change.

Of the 24 artists and their artwork, I felt an especially strong connection to the work by Pedro Reyes of Mexico City.  His Palas por Pistolas captured my gardening imagination.

Palas por Pistolas means Pistols for Shovels and is a brilliant, 21st Century take on the peaceful concept of turning swords into ploughshares. Handguns and other weapons were collected, destroyed and melted. The material was then forged into shovels to be used for planting trees.

According to the artist’s description of his work, the project was originally developed for the Botanical Garden in Culiacán, a city in northwestern Mexico with the highest rate of hand-gun deaths in the country.

The city collected 1,527 weapons using a media campaign. One of the ads was playing on a video monitor near the exhibit.

Other videos showed the process of melting the guns, forging the shovel blades and finishing them with long wooden handles. Since the project began, shovels made from guns have been used by students, teachers and many others to plant trees in Mexico City, Vancouver and San Francisco.

During the exhibit, the shovels were taken to Denver’s Carson Elementary School on July 26 for a tree planting project.  Many of the shovels were returned to the exhibit hall still caked with soil after being used to plant 20 trees. Click here to watch a video of the planting and to learn more about the Pistols for Shovels Project.

I left my name and contact information at the front desk of the exhibit and I hope I’ll hear from the artist one day. I want to tell him how much his work means to me and to find out how I can get my hands on one of those shovels.


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